Friday, January 06, 2006

The NEA: Where's The Democracy And Accountability?

Many of us classroom teachers who work in "agency shop" states such as California are required to financially support The National Education Association. In fact, that financial support is withheld from our paychecks, the amount of which is solely determined by that organization.

But have you ever wondered where much of that money actually ends up being spent?

The Education Intelligence Agency and its associated blog Intercepts have published three posts that explain some of the more "interesting" ways in which the unelected-by-the-rank-and-file leadership of the NEA chooses to spend monies taken from members as well as those who are forced to pay. Read the
first post, here, the second post, right here, and the third post, over there. Consider following the links provided for additional info.

Among the expenditures, these really jumped out at me: $56.8 million for union administration, $64 million for "general overhead," and $65.5 million for contributions, gifts, and grants.

And can there be any acceptable explanation for this listed expense? NB Yacht Charters: $11,797

What does chartering a yacht have to do with the advocacy of better working conditions and compensation for the rank-and-file who actually pay for all this?

According to the Education Intelligence Agency, (
second post)
NEA national headquarters took in $295 million in dues in 2004-05, the major portion of its total receipts of $341.2 million. Roughly one-third of that money is spent on the salaries and benefits of NEA's employees, executives and retirees.

Topping that list is NEA President Reg Weaver, who received a base salary of $272,170, plus allowances for benefits and living expenses of $98,258, for a total pay of $370,428. These cash allowances for NEA's three executive officers are meant to compensate them for the cost of maintaining two homes, plus the fact that they do not receive retirement benefits from NEA during their union tenure.

NEA Vice President Dennis Van Roekel received a base salary of $226,077 and allowances of $46,873, for a total of $272,950. NEA Secretary-Treasurer Lily Eskelsen received a base salary of $223,104 and allowances of $49,143 for a total of $272,247.

These figures may or may not represent the full amount earned by the three executives, as they have the option to defer a portion of their NEA income during their time in office. Former NEA President Bob Chase, for example, received $62,790 in 2004-05, even though he completed his term in 2002.

The salaries of the members of the NEA Executive Committee are also included in this year's report. Michael Billirakis of Ohio received $159,550, Mark Cebulski of Wisconsin received $132,145, Carolyn Crowder of Oklahoma received $99,375, Michael Marks of Mississippi received $146,504, Rebecca Pringle of Pennsylvania received $132,643, and Marsha Smith of Maryland received $174,310.

The top earner among NEA staffers was NEA Executive Director John Wilson, who received $258,720 in base salary, plus $46,257 in allowances, for a total of $304,977. The average salary of the 612 employees who drew a paycheck from NEA in 2004-05 was $88,898. Of these staff members (not including elected officers or state executive directors), 281 -- about 46 percent -- received salaries in excess of $100,000.
The NEA promotes itself as a democratic organization, yet the dues-paying rank-and-file have never been permitted to choose the Association's president or any other national or state officer. Nor are the rank-and-file ever permitted to vote for the amount of dues that they must pay or what candidates the organization will endorse for any given political campaign.

Currently, at the national and state level, all staffers and paid members of committees are appointees who were recommended for appointment by the President and subsequently rubber stamped by another appointed committee.

If the NEA is to ever truly become a democratic organization and a publicly respected advocate of public education as well as better pay/working conditions for its membership in the 21st century, the NEA's leaders need to abandon this paternalistic union model that was more suited to the middle of the last century. This type of authoritarian unionism serves to alienate much of its own membership as well as large segments of the general public.

The NEA needs to adopt an authentic "democratic-participatory" model of union organization. Highly successful examples of democratic-participatory unions are: The Professional Baseball Players Association, The Screen Actors Guild, and Actors Equity. These three unions represent highly educated and individualistic constituencies (such as teachers) and enjoy widespread membership support at the grassroots level.

In other words, the NEA should not be afraid to permit its own rank-and-file to have a meaningful say in the governance of the organization that so loudly proclaims to represent their collective interests.

That would include allowing something that's never before been permitted within the NEA: Free, fair, and contested elections for the union's national officers in which every dues-paying member may vote. In this age of electronic voting, that shouldn't be so difficult to operationalize.

The same goes for the officers of NEA's state affiliates, such as President Barbara Kerr (base salary: $174,864) of the California Teachers Association.

We would like to publicly issue a challenge to Reg Weaver, the never-elected-by-the-rank-and-file President of The National Education Association. This is something that you can do with a minimum of trouble and effort: Why not support the sponsorship of a comments-enabled NEA weblog that would permit the free and civil expression of both dissenting and concurring opinions among commenters?

We'll even help you with a name for the site. Call the blog NEA Voices. We think that name is kinda catchy.

Please remember, President Weaver, that a truly democratic organization never need fear its own membership.

Update: (1/07) Think about checking out our response to this post over at Thespis Journal.

Update: (1/08) Over at A Shrewdness Of Apes, Ms. Cornelius, who is a member of her local NEA's executive board, has some ideas for your consideration.

Mortarboard Tip: The Pirate
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